In November 2016, country music artist Jay Allen sat at his kitchen table, unable to shake the lyrics forming in his mind. He had just said goodbye to his parents who were visiting his home in Nashville, Tenn.
His mother, Sherry Rich, was progressing quickly in her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Jay’s father made the long drive from Iowa so Sherry could visit her son’s home one last time.
“Every two hours, my Pops would call with a warning, ‘Hey buddy, prepare your heart, she’s different now.’ But you just can’t prepare for that,” Jay says.
When Sherry arrived, she didn’t recognize Jay.
I wish I didn’t feel so helpless when it comes to helping you
“I’m the oldest and have two little sisters,” Jay says. “I’ve always been a fixer, so when my mama walked in the door, I immediately felt helpless because I couldn’t fix it. It pissed me off.”
Not ready or willing to deal with the reality of the situation, he took his parents to a local venue where he witnessed the power of music for the first time.
“Mama walked in, heard the music and just lit up,” Jay says. “Her eyes were sparkling; she was grinning from ear to ear.”
Jay grabbed Sherry by the hand and pulled her closer to the band. Two steps into a slow dance, she took a deep breath, leaned in and whispered in her son’s ear, “I’ve missed you, Jay. I love you so much.”
I know that you’re still in there
His parents’ visit sparked the lyrics for “Blank Stares,” the song that would become Jay’s tribute to his mother and kick-start his music career.
“My mama has always been the kindest, most selfless person I know,” Jay says. “The one time I did something completely selfless for her, she still found a way to turn it around and benefit me.”
In August 2018, “Blank Stares” went viral after a fan posted a video of Jay holding Sherry tightly during a performance at the Iowa State Fair. The video was viewed more than 125 million times on Facebook and his story was shared through media outlets such as People, Forbes and “ABC World Nightly News.”
So I keep holding on … To every memory made of you and me
“Country music is my heartbeat and that’s because of my mama,” Jay says. “She used to pick me up from school in her purple ’95 Buick LeSabre. It was a piece of junk car and she’d roll down the windows and crank country radio. We’d sing all the way home.”
Even though the woman Jay refers to as his “whole world” passed away in February 2019, he holds on tightly to his cherished memories of their time together.
Deep down I swear I still see you between the blank stares
As an Alzheimer’s Association Celebrity Champion, he’s raising awareness and funds by sharing his story through his song. He’s performed at several Association galas and fundraising events and continues to look for more opportunities to do his part.
Visit Jay Allen's official website
to listen to “Blank Stares.”
ALZ: A magazine of the Alzheimer's Association
As a trusted source of support and information about Alzheimer’s and dementia since 1982, the Alzheimer’s Association is an expert on the brain — the engine driving our ability to think, feel, remember, work and play. We launched ALZ magazine so we can share more about the body’s control center — and provide you with tips on how to make your brain a central focus of a healthy lifestyle. Want in on the next issue? Sign up here.